In Germany, as early as in the start of the 20th century, there was already talk of existenzminimum: the concept of satisfying man’s primary necessities with regard to his living space. People’s needs were examined logically, rationally, and from the perspective of design. Optimization through a reduction in wastefulness was the start of ergonomic analysis, of bioclimatic building, and of the reuse of construction materials.
Inside United Kingdom’s pavilion at Expo 2015, the lines to visit the Hive were kilometers long at all hours of the day. The Wolfgang Buttress Studio’s project illustrated the role hives play in our ecosystem and demonstrated the balanced society that bees provide us with. The steel structure was placed in the middle of a flowering meadow and evoked the shape of hives constructed in nature by honeybees. Its concept focused on finding a solution for sustainable living in the future, starting with the importance of hives in our ecosystem.
Bees are able to calculate the minimum distance between the flower and the honeycomb faster than a computer. They choose to deposit their wax in a hexagon rather than a circle or square because, with equal perimeters, a hexagon’s area is greater and requires 9% less wax to build. Bees plan, consider, perceive scents and see colors, learn rules and models, recognize faces, and make decisions. Those marvelous social insects, as they were described by Rigoni Stern, are today at risk of extinction because, over the past eighty years, insecticides have altered their lives. If they disappear, who will pollinate the flowers? It is a know fact that without bees we would be faced with a serious shortage of food resources, with many suggesting that if the bees disappeared for good, it would mean the end of the world.
On October 14th, 1952, in Marseilles, the Unité d’Habitation was inaugurated: a symbol of the post-WWII period and an emblem of Rationalist architecture and of the theories of Bauhaus. Conceived as a social housing project, the Ministry of Reconstruction commissioned its design to Le Corbusier immediately after the War. Le Corbusier established the Modulor as a unit of measure – a term created by the fusion of module and or (as a reference to the golden section). One Modulor corresponds to 2.26 meters –or a man with his arms raised over his head – and was also intended as a basis for serial duplication.
The cells of a beehive, designed according to mathematical measurements, are intelligent spaces that recall the concepts of existenzminimum and Modulor. The relationship between humans and animals is a topic that is frequently discussed, especially the relationship between bees and architects. As poet Franco Marcoaldi writes: “Show me one architect, among thousands, capable of building not a wall that goes up, but one that comes down. Without complaint, the anonymous bees have done it always. Attached to the ceiling, they reach the ground suspended to their site from above. Without the use of yardstick, plumb line, or compass they create perfect hexagons, thus ensuring – in the least amount of space – the greatest number of equal cells.”
The Hudson Yards Vessel, designed by Thomas Heatherwick (who also designed the much disputed Pier55), appears like an overturned beehive in the middle of New York, situated at the northern end of the High Line. It is more a sculpture than an architectural structure: a 45 meter high labyrinth of Escer-esque staircases made up of 154 ringed stairways that intersect with one another to create 80 panoramic platforms from which to admire the city. The designer’s concept was a structure that was to be touched rather than looked at, a box made up of stairs and landings “like a free stage for the city that will become a new public meeting place”. It is the hexagonal matrix, repeated for 16 levels and almost 50 vertical meters, obtained thanks to prefabricated steel and bronze elements created by Monfalcone (in the Gorizia province), that resemble the cells of a beehive, with the people climbing the stairs becoming the swarm of bees.
Entering number 68 Champs-Elysées in Paris, the headquarters of Guerlain, visitors are welcomed by the installation Vol des Abeilles: 35 honeybees in gold stainless steel with a wing span of 65 centimeters, the work of artist and set designer Gérard Cholot. At the same address, one can purchase jars of honey that the company produces in Orphin, where ten hives were installed in 2010. Also in keeping with its commitment to sustainable development, in May 2017 Guerlain launched the first edition of the Bee University, aimed at sensitizing the younger generation about the importance of protecting the world’s bees.
Guerlain’s research also explores the mechanisms of the cutaneous scarring process through study of French Royal Jelly and the pure honey of the black bees on the island of Ouessant, declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve. Guerlain focuses on four topics: biodiversity, sustainable design, reduction of CO2 emissions, and social responsibility. By 2020 every product it launches on the market will be sustainably designed. The amount of glass used to produce the iconic little blue jars of the Orchidée Impériale line has already been halved, as well as the paper used for its packaging – reducing CO2 emissions by 55%. The brand’s objective is to become a zero-emissions company by 2028: to do so every element in the production line will need to get involved, from transport to the architecture of its facilities.
The bee has been at the center of the company’s work since 1853 when Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain created, for the Empress Eugenia on occasion of her wedding to Napoleon III, the Eau de Cologne Impériale. A bee, the symbol of the emperor, thus became the emblem of Guerlain.